After years of shitty Ocean’s Eleven sequels and experimental movies that seemed more focused on craft than actual storytelling, it’s kind of great to see Steven Soderbergh back in the habit of making good-old-fashioned Hollywood fare like Contagion. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge the guy his desire to try new things, but I’d much rather simply see his take on a traditional narrative like this than to continue seeing him become the guy who’s getting closer and closer to filming his next movie entirely with cell-phone cameras (don’t think he hasn’t considered it).

Contagion is, more-or-less, an old-school disaster movie, complete with the same sort of all-star cast that usually populate that genre. But it is also a Soderbergh film, which of course means a very modern sensibility and style. Soderbergh has always been known for bringing an artist-driven indie sensibility to films that, in the hands of other directors, could be fairly generic action or thriller films. This one is no different – most “killer disease” movies are usually unwilling to not offer a human villain, often casting the government and military as the bad guys and ending with a race against the clock to find the antidote. Soderbergh (and writer Scott Z. Burns) are smart enough to realize that the sickness is scary enough (not to mention how normal people will react to), and so present a fairly matter-of-fact look at what it would be like if a new super-flu came along and quickly began laying waste to the world’s population.

It’s played frighteningly realistic, and is all the more terrifying for it. I love how much tension Soderbergh can generate out of just letting his camera linger on a mug or door handle than a sick person has just touched, as the audience sits there and realizes how much stuff they touch every day without thinking about it. I’m about as far away from a germaphobe as you can be, and even I was watching this and re-thinking how cavalier my attitude towards this stuff can be. The film is even more scary if, like me, you remain convinced that this something like this is almost certainly what WILL wipe out humanity some day. Here we have what it will look like presented in unflinching clarity.

As is the case with any multi-story ensemble films, not every story is as good or engaging as others. Marion Cotillard’s storyline, in particular, seems to lack an ending and also seems strangely gutted in the middle (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a lot of her stuff was cut for time), but even still, every performance is great, and the film is never boring. In fact, it’s one of the more exciting movies of the year, and another reminder that – when he’s one – Soderbergh remains one of our most powerful filmmakers. Check this one out for sure…just make sure you bring some hand sanitizer with you.

 

 

This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on September 14th, 2011.

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